'Something needs to change:' Car theft victim confronts thieves when deputies don't respond

A Puyallup man is calling for change after he says he had to confront suspects who stole his wife's car when law enforcement didn't respond until the day after they were called. 

Michael Wilson said someone stole his wife's car out of their driveway on Oct. 13. Later that night, they spotted the car in a parking lot at 176th St. E and Meridian Ave. E. 

"I saw two people who were in the car, who were in the process of getting high," said Wilson.

His wife called South Sound 911, who told her officers were on the way. Wilson says he didn't know if the suspects were armed, but he wasn't taking any chances: he grabbed his gun.

"I had the people in my car. We called them [police]. If they were there in five minutes, they probably would have found them," said Wilson

Both suspects took off. 

"We waited for an hour to see if the cops would come.  During that hour waiting, the cops never showed up. One of the people that was in my car came back. I used my Second Amendment rights again to stop them from trying to get into their vehicle, not knowing what was in their vehicle, if they were gonna try to hurt me or my family, because I had my kids with me, so not knowing if they were going to, I used my Second Amendment rights. My wife was on the phone with the police again while they were there on the phone, telling them what I was doing. The assailant also called the cops telling them I had them using my Second Amendment rights and they never showed up," said Wilson.

After waiting three hours, his wife drove her car home, which reeked of fentanyl and meth and was filled with paraphernalia and trash. The vehicle had deep scratches in the pant and holes cut into the back seat.  

"They burnt my back seatbelt. They just burnt it. They were bored," said Wilson.

A deputy showed up at 6:15 the following morning. 

"When the cops came, they didn't take any fingerprints because they said my wife had driven the car home and at that point, it was null and void for them to find anything," said Wilson.

Wilson says something needs to change. He knows it was dangerous to confront the suspects, but that car means everything to his wife.  

"She feels violated. She doesn't feel like it's hers anymore," said Wilson.

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Because of staffing issues, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department says there were only two deputies working the graveyard shift in that district when Wilson called for help.  On their way to respond, deputies had a DUI driver in front of them they had to stop, then they were dispatched to a welfare check and then another DUI driver that led them on a short pursuit and turned out to be illegally armed. 

In all, they had 12 back-to-back calls and say they don't know why South Sound 911 dispatch didn't prioritize Wilson's call.  

"Officers going call to call, working too much by themselves is exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing. It's the opposite of community policing. It's the opposite of building trust and outreach and building trust in the community. It's just tired cops doing their best and getting more and more exhausted," said Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

He says our state has the lowest number of officers per-capita in the nation.

"We net lost almost 500 officers in 2021. That is disastrous," said Strachan, who feels one of the biggest problems in retaining officers is that they don't feel they can get justice for victims. He points to changes to the laws in 2021 that restrict police pursuits and decriminalize felony drug possession as issues that are contributing to retention and attracting new officers.

"I think we need to tell the legislature loud and clear, even if this isn't what you meant, this is not ok," said Strachan.

He says the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are focused on getting state aid for local governments to increase police staffing, fixing the police pursuit law so reasonable suspicion can be used to follow and arrest criminals, and on making felony drug possession illegal again.

"Letting people die in addiction on the street is not compassionate," said Strachan.

That includes pushing for money to build infrastructure for treatment.

"That's heavy lifting because it takes a lot of money, it takes a lot of staff and it's gonna take years to build that infrastructure and we have to do both of those things at the same time," Strachan said. 

He's hopeful and urges people to contact their local and state legislators to push for changes to support police.

"I think the stars are beginning to align where we can start to come together and find ways to move forward to build strong public safety in this state," said Strachan.